NASA has successfully crashed the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft into the Dimorphos asteroid. 10 months ago NASA launched the DART probe specifically aiming for the mini-asteroid to study how much impact a projectile could have on diverting asteroids. For the test, they chose the none earth threatening asteroid Dimorphos to test out the new technology.
Dimorphos is about the size of the great pyramids in Egypt and orbits the half-mile-wide asteroid, Didymos. Both of these asteroids orbit a path that goes out beyond mars but comes close enough to earth that they were a viable target. Dimorphos also has an orbit that mimics how potentially threatening near-Earth asteroids tend to move around the sun. At the time of impact, the target was almost 7 million miles from earth. “Never before have I been so excited to see a signal go away,” Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) director Ralph Semmell joked.
“Oh, fantastic!” said Lori Glaze, the director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, about the impact. “Now is when the science starts.” Because crashing a spacecraft the size of a vending machine into an asteroid with an estimated velocity of 14,000 mph, isn’t scientific enough! But Glaze is right while the team at Johns Hopkins University’s APL in Maryland clapped and cheered at the crash footage, their work is far from over.
The entire point of the collision is to see how Dimorphos changes its orbit around the larger Didymos. This effect isn’t expected to be huge, it may change a few minutes of its 11.9-hour orbital period. But even that seemingly small change can tell us a lot about how a crash like this may be able to change the orbit of something that could threaten the earth.
To study these changes NASA has also sent out the LICIACube probe which observed the initial crash from a safe distance. LICIACube will also continue to give us new images over the next few days. Over the next few months, the team will be utilizing both the Hubble Space and James Webb Space Telescopes to continue to track changes. All we know is this may mean we never have to leave Bruce Willis behind again.